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Living horror of injustice

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You think your life is going through hell? Consider Aleka. She is a 16-year-old girl in a remote village in Ntchisi whose life now is nothing but hell.

Every morning she wakes up to a sad reminder that has come to define and shape her destiny at such a tender age. Life for her is no longer the same.

And what does life mean when custodians of young girls like her become the very vultures that circle around and pounce on them? That is the question tormenting Aleka as she reels from the agony of fate.

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Meeting fate

Aleka’s home village in Traditional Authority Nthondo in Ntchisi is a serene place. The natural vegetative cover through forests and bushes remains in abundance.

But within this serenity hangs the dark cloud of sexual violence and abuse of young girls.

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In the last seven months, Nthondo has recorded six cases of sexual abuse, according to Kenneth Malikebu, child protection officer in the area working under the social welfare office.

“Some are children less than five years old and others below 18 years,” says Malikebu.

The story of Aleka is one case study under these chilling figures.

In October last year, she was allegedly forced into sexual intercourse with a man working as a teacher at one primary school in a neighbouring village.

She had gone to Mtengera Trading Centre to collect clothes her mother had left with a certain tailor when she met her fate.

“I did not find him but met this man who told me that the tailor was at his garden and I should visit him there,” says Aleka.

Since it was late in the afternoon, she decided to return home and come back another day.

The man asked more about her and she told him about her village.

“He said he knows the place because he has a friend who teaches at Muuta Primary School. They were together in Kasungu before they came here. I told him I know his friend because he is my teacher,” she says.

Later, the conversation went awry when he asked Aleka to be in a sexual relationship. He promised to support her. The girl refused and left.

Aleka was unaware that he was following her. The man caught up with her when she reached a certain bush area. He snatched her handbag and went into the bush.

“When I attempted to get it, he grabbed me and forced himself on me. I did not scream because the place is far away from houses,” she says.

This forced sex occurred twice on separate days.

The sickness

From the beginning, Aleka was so scared to tell anyone until two weeks later when she became seriously ill.

“We thought it was just malaria. She received medication but things never improved. She was in pain and often cried,” says (Garnet), the father.

It took the visit of a teacher to establish her real problem.

Says Garnet: “This teacher said he met a friend who was boasting that he was in a relationship with a girl from Muuta school and had already slept with her twice.

“The teacher told us he knows this man very well and that most women he sleeps with get infected with sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and that our daughter could be having the same problem.”

Aleka was cagey when her parents questioned her.

“We had to invite an outsider, a neighbouring woman, to ask her and that’s when she opened up,” says the 43-year-old Garnet.

After getting a police statement and seeking medical care, it was confirmed that Aleka had contracted STIs.

Search for justice

This was a serious matter and justice had to take its course, according to Garnet.

“He is a married person who took advantage of her. He is a teacher too and knows the rules against sleeping with schoolchildren,” he says.

Nthondo Police Unit summoned and questioned the man before arresting him.

“At first he denied but later accepted to have slept with her. Quizzed why he did it, he did not respond,” says Garnet, the father of six.

The accused appeared before the Ntchisi Child Justice Court twice before he was acquitted. The father was perplexed.

“They said the court hears cases of children below 16 years. My daughter was 16 years and five months old. Why did they bother to sit for the case in the first place?” wonders Garnet, adding that he had doubts from the beginning with how the police were handling the case.

He is baffled that while the nation is striving hard to create a better future for the girl-child, some sections are still tolerating individuals on a vicious streak of making brides out of “our girls”.

The police in Nthondo and Ntchisi have repeatedly ignored efforts to seek their say on the matter.

The Ntchisi district education manager’s office says it was aware of the matter but could not penalise the teacher because he was acquitted by the court.

“We did our part for justice to prevail between both parties, we facilitated for the court hearing,” says Greviton Chimsasa, Primary Education Adviser for Msumba Education Zone. The school the accused teacher works at is under this zone.

Chimsasa adds that the court heard that the girl also engaged in commercial sex work before she was withdrawn and taken back to school.

He says further reports indicate that she continued the practice while schooling and that the teacher was new in the area and did not know that Aleka was a student.

“It was because of this that the court could not pin down the accused,” says Chimsasa.

Garnet shoots down this as a lie and a ploy to shield the teacher. He argues that the accused knew that the girl is a minor.

He is still looking for justice but he has no resources.

“I spent close to K35,000 for transport from Nthondo to Ntchisi during the case. I have no money to take it further,” he says.

Harrowing horror

Aleka’s life has descended into a harrowing chapter. She is on the verge of wasting her future and probably her life too.

She was supposed to take this year’s Standard Eight examinations. But she has already withdrawn from school because she is six months pregnant. She says the teacher is responsible. But the law has distanced him from this.

An expert on child justice offers an alternative for Aleka’s parents to explore by citing the Child Care and Justice Protection Act of 2010.

“This law provides an opportunity to seek a DNA test to establish the paternity of the born child,” says Maxwell Matewere, Executive Director of Eye of the Child, an organisation that promotes child rights and justice in Malawi.

Matewere says they have to wait until the child is born for the test to be done.

It will be a long wait for the parents and the girl.

Looking into Aleka’s eyes, one sees a bleeding heart buried under the layers of pain and lost hope for this life. She is a girl in need of care and support from those close to her. But it is in short supply.

Her best friends from school cannot provide it. None has ever paid her a visit. She feels alienated.

Her mother is not around. She is terminally ill and being nursed at her home village in Khuwi, some 45 kilometres away. That leaves only the father to give it all.

“I have to accompany her to antenatal clinic and remind her to take medication,” says Garnet about his firstborn child.

The medication young Aleka is taking is antiretroviral therapy (ART). On February 6 this year, she was found HIV positive.

No place is the thought of this so hurtful than in the heart of a horrified parent.

“He infected my daughter. She is suffering but he gets to live freely, and probably hurt another innocent girl,” says Garnet.

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